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Going far beyond books

Hillsboro's trendy 'Library of Things' popular with patrons

HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: DOUG BURKHARDT - Karen Muller, the librarys assistant director of operations, displays some of the dozens of unusual items the Hillsboro Public Library has in its Library of Things collection. It’s no secret that libraries are not just about books any longer. But since when did people start going to the library to check out a crock pot or electronic snap circuits?

Those items are among about 80 objects currently offered at the Hillsboro Public Library, which is finding creative ways to serve its patrons that go far beyond traditional library offerings.

Hillsboro’s library recently branched out into what it efficiently terms the “Library of Things” — unusual products most people would expect to find in a hardware store or a kitchen supply business rather than at a public library.

“We now have 80 items in the collection, including specialty bakeware, kitchen gadgets, Ozobots and outdoor games like badminton and croquet,” said Karen Muller, assistant director of library operations. “By far the most popular items are the ice cream makers.”

These unique items can be found in the library’s card catalog (by looking up “Library of Things”), and many of the items are on display in the public area on the first floor. Objects that are too bulky to fit on the shelves are retrieved by library staffers from storage areas in the back of the library.

“Anyone with a Washington County library card can borrow the items, but they need to be picked up at the library branch they belong to,” said Muller. “The items check out for one week and can be placed on hold for pickup. The program has been very popular.”

Mary Davis, a Portland resident who has a Washington County library card, said she is enthusiastic about the new collection.

“I checked out one of the ice cream makers,” Davis said. “I heard the library was going to have them, and immediately put one on hold.”

Davis said she was pleased the appliance came with a recipe booklet and directions.

“I always wanted an ice cream maker, but didn’t want to spend the money on one,” she said. “This was a chance to try it out for free.”

As news of what is available has spread, so has the interest: A library staffer said there are now about 30 names on a list of those waiting to borrow an ice cream maker, and to help meet demand the library recently purchased a second one.

Another Portland resident, Shauna Croak-Falen, said she checked out a tortilla press a couple weeks ago.

“I hadn’t used one before, but heard it came with instructions,” she explained. “One of the reasons I wanted it was so I could try it out to decide if I wanted to buy one or not. I wish I could have kept it longer, but I totally understand why it’s limited to a week, so more people can use it.”

Croak-Falen said she was impressed the library is going in this direction.

“It’s really interesting to see how libraries are expanding from just books,” she said.

According to Muller, Hillsboro is not the first to come up with the concept of allowing patrons to check out a variety of useful utensils and devices. She pointed out that Hillsboro took the idea — and the catchy “Library of Things” moniker — from Sacramento, Calif.

“The name was used by the Sacramento Public Library when they started their collection, and we asked if we could use it as well,” Muller said. “We love the idea. People can try something new, and have access to tools to explore new ideas and new hobbies.”

The Hillsboro library started the “Things” collection in late 2014 by providing specialty bakeware, and the reaction was very favorable.

“It has been a great success,” said Sigrid Sharif, the library’s public information liaison. “People are surprised and delighted they can check out an ice cream maker or badminton set from the Hillsboro Public Library.”

The library has responded to the enthusiasm of its patrons.

“Since that was so popular, we decided to expand the offerings into tech toys, and now outdoor games,” Muller explained. “We have purchased items from local stores and Amazon, among other online retailers.”

Initially, the library began making purchases for the Library of Things by using a small amount of money from the library’s materials budget. Now, however, these goods are being funded by the Friends of the Hillsboro Public Library. Objects in the collection are available at the Hillsboro Main Library as well as the Shute Park Branch.

Muller added that the library is open to new ideas about specific items the library might obtain for the “Things” program.

“We love feedback from the public about what they would like to see in our collection,” Muller said, adding that patrons have been highly responsible with new collection.

“There has not been any theft or loss,” Muller said.

Davis said she intends to continue to explore what the library’s new program has to offer.

“I’m already in line for a badminton set,” she said.